Not many lines could boast having an inner disciple attending an annual meet, let alone two. And they arrived in such a grandiose fashion, everyone in the sect would here word of it.
"Don't look at me, all this was his idea." The youngest of the two inner disciples defended himself as they stepped on the top floor and faced the young shu family members.
"HAHAHA, little brother Dai Chao, inner disciples shouldn't act low key! It's important to honor the shu family ancestors by impressing the young ones.
Take a seat everyone, I am Xiong Hui, a member of the shu family for 11 years now. Ah it's great that our line hasn't been interrupted, I'm in a fine mood today!
You there with the zither, play something more exciting, will you?"
With a glance, Dai Chao and Xiong Hui knew what year each disciple was from, and that was not just by their appearance. In fact, all of the members of the Shu Line had slightly different robes. That was because the number of stripes on the left shoulder corresponded to their time in the school. 2nd years only had two parallel stripes; 3rd years had three etc. Of course, 1st years didn't even have a white robe yet.
Everyone started presenting themselves shortly to the inner disciples and the atmosphere turned cheerful, and Xiong Hui played an important role in that. Rather than acting bossy he was extremely approachable and encouraging to his younger fellow disciples.
Lan Ruoxi didn't show her inner disappointment that Xiong Hui was indeed another man. She would still have to wait to meet a third girl in the Shu family. What she noticed first was that he had the altitude and the makings of a leader.
Dai Chao, the youngest inner disciple of the family, sat on the opposite side of the table of Xiong Hui to "discuss with his new members rather than have to listen to this old guy about himself."
His comment caused another explosive laugh from Xiong Hu.
When Lan Ruoxi compared the two, Dai Chao appeared a lot milder and slightly introverted.
Wonderful and exotic dishes were brought one after the other, accompanied by fine wine for those older than 16, which meant the inner disciples.
The younger ones still had a sip though, which was enough to relax considerably the atmosphere as they had previously remained relatively restrained in front of those inner disciples.
Without a doubt, an entire glass would be enough to render them completely drunk! Only those at the foundation establishment stage could enjoy a lot more of this wine fermented with various medicinal plants.
Gao Fengge had dutifully described all the medicinal herbs he sensed in the wine.
Around the table, only the two inner disciples had reached foundation establishment but it was expected that Xu Wei would soon breakthrough as well.
Amazingly, Han Lingyun could feel his own cultivation make great strides by just eating some of the delicious fruits and that magic beast's meet of such tenderness that it melted in one's mouth.
This night, he would eat more than he ever had in 3 days.
Everyone started to exchange their own stories. The young were especially curious about the inner disciples and the inner disciples enjoyed to remember and compare their own experiences with their young friends.
Apparently, inner disciples could be in seclusion for months or even years to cultivate. When they came out, they would either exchange pointers with each other, leave the sect to adventure or train with other disciples.
Han Lingyun learned what happened after reaching 16. Apparently, those under 16 were only considered as members of the White Tiger SCHOOL and not the sect. The sect organizes a grand recruitment event for all young disciples that are 16 years old that attracts thousands of young cultivators. Some even come from the other side of the continent to participate in the selection.
As long as you are decent in your year and have reached the qi condensation stage, the disciples of the White Tiger School enter the 'true' White Tiger Sect where they will undergo training in regiments based out of their specialties.
Those that haven't reached qi condensation at 16 remain at the school to fill in one of the many tasks and chores. A good portion at the qi condensation realm also prefer to remain at the school rather than joining the more battle-oriented sect, even if there are like at the school, many non-fighting jobs to do.
The oldest ones then get transferred to the sect and their previous functions at the schools by the newcomers on so on. It was a well-oiled machine.
Some of the inner disciples received some training as commanders and went to train with the other disciples from time to time. This was Xiong Hu's case for example.
Apparently, two decades ago, the sect worked differently, with a lot more freedom for the disciples above 16 years old.
However, the new sect master had gradually changed the policy by promoting more cooperation between disciples and opening the sects' doors to a greater number of outsiders. The sect was now largely recruiting the best disciples from its sisters' sects too, basically the weaker sects of this region of the Sun empire. Like every reform, this was met by a large resistance from some elders.
As for the White Tiger School? The objective was to prepare the disciples as best as possible for the life in the White Tiger Sect's regiments, while ensuring their loyalty and gaining new inner disciples, which would be the future leaders. On the other hand, the sect didn't wish for its best talents to be poached away. That's why it focused its training more on the whole promotion of disciples rather than their best talents, but still favored the best of the bunch and insisted greatly on having a solid foundation.
Han Lingyun also asked if Captain Lacroix that looked so young was an inner disciple in disguise considering that she was already at the core formation realm.
Dai Chao explained to him that he shouldn't trust a cultivator's external appearance to determine their age. Captain Lacroix was most likely an Elder older than 50 that kept her youthful appearance because she broke through to the core formation when she was still quite young.
Later that night, as the discussion moved on, under Xiong Hu and his elders' interest, Han Lingyun had to recount his year's gang wars.
Everyone had a good laugh when he recounted his deeds of leaving those disciples naked.
He learned that these types of events happened nearly every year, but rarely did it degrade to a disciple war, especially this early in the school year. The confrontation had been exacerbated by the conflict between Wei Muchen and Yu Tao, their egos, and willingness to have a group of followers. But some years had been even more terrible. Xia Shan had it the worst at the table. In her first year, up to 5 groups had decided they couldn't tolerate each other, with different camps 'owning' different strategic sites, one had control of the mission hall, one had control of the exchange hall, one of the amphitheaters, one of the forests, the rivers, the dining hall…
When the elders finally stepped in, some disciples continued to fight with deathmatches. It truly had been a dark year.
On the other hand, Xu Wei's year didn't have much conflict. The highest ranked new disciples had been heavily warned by their seniors at the beginning of the year and had then started to administer and control the disciples together.
Either way at the end the 1st year, the sect would step in and ban disciple fights besides arena combats. Conflicts between 10 years old shouldn't cause irreversible enmities but prolonged tensions other the whole 6 years at the school might. This laissez faire for 1st years also served two other purposes: teach a lesson to the disciples, and uncover every disciple's true nature. This second part was probably the main reason why the school's decision makers put in place such a tradition.
Han Lingyun learned a ton of other things from the discussions with his seniors. Gao Fengge informed him that in the second half of the year, he would have classes introducing the "noble arts", as Gao Fengge put it. These "noble arts" were the intellectual professions: forging, alchemy, and array building.
He would gain the white robes at the end of the first semester, after having killed one magical beast in a promotion excursion.
Han Lingyun also learned that after the 2nd and 4th years, there was a disciple competition with all the other sects of the Sun Alliance. Another big event to look forward to!
Xiong Hu caught everyone's attention again when he described the level of the sect leader and the sect's "Protector's". They were at the cultivation level above core foundation. It was named the Nascent Soul realm and those cultivators could live up to 500 years! Some have been in the sect nearly since its foundation!
Han Lingyun was even more shocked when he learned that he should have already met a Nascent Soul cultivator. There were 3 stationed at White Tiger School. One at Market Road, one near the inner disciples' caves, and one at the library right next to the 1st years village.
Han Lingyun vaguely remembered a middle-aged man introducing them to the library. Well apparently, he was a 300 years old Nascent Soul cultivator!
After another sip of wine, the discussion moved more toward disciple gossip. Because of Lan Ruoxi, Han Lingyun recounted how he had won a couple hundred Ps with a bet against and Elder. The true gain was a lot higher and his relationship with Elder Wen more substantial but Han Lingyun didn't mention any of that.
Zhang Fang had the funniest stories of all. It was incredible how he managed to experience so much in 3 years.
Everyone had a great time and a good laugh. The older ones were thrilled to see that their shu legacy was faring well. The younger ones marveled at their elders' experiences. They all had 4th grade talent and could relate well with each other's doings.
Lan Ruoxi raised another topic to the inner disciples. "Oh! I always wondered; do you know how old is our shu family? Does it date back to the sect foundation?"
Xiong Hu put his glass down and let the silent fall on the table for dramatic effect. "Finding the history of a family is quite hard as it is only passed by word of mouth from generation to generation of disciple. You see, it is more of a school tradition and isn't really continued when disciples enter the true sect. Dai Chao and I just had a sudden urge to reminisce about the past, that's why we joined for that meal, but we are the exceptions. These many new generations with only access to direct testimony from a 6-year gap makes going back in time more difficult.
Well, when at your age, I heard from my elders at the time that the shu family was more than 300 years old. However not too long ago, I was very lucky to be able to get closer to the truth."
Everyone perked up.
Xiong Hu with the disciple full attention continued his story. "Last year, I met an elder that was in the shu family line when he first entered the school, and that was 150 years ago. He was very surprised to learn that the shu family hadn't become discontinued to this day! At the time, he entered the sect at the 315th rank.
Back in the day, word was that the line dated from 30 years prior, originating from a low ranked disciple that took pride in his rat-like face."
"Wow, so our family does date back from long ago."
"If it's only 180 years old, it's far from what the rumors said though."
"The beginning didn't sound very glorious."
"I hoped we were older."
All expressed their thoughts on this news.
The rule of accepting 800 disciples per year was very quickly used at the White Tiger School, and the family line tradition could be traced back to its foundation. Every time a 1st year died his line would stop. Because then two low ranked disciples share a common major, one of the two would branch out to name his own line. This is why the lines are not fixed to a rank but accept disciples of higher and higher rank as long as the line lives on, and when higher ranked newcomers don't survive the year.
"I don't think that any line dates back from the sect foundation." Xiong Hu continued.
"Only 15 lines could be older than the shu family and the absolute oldest one should be the line that welcomed the 1st ranked at the entry. But you know, every now and then, even the one arriving at rank 1 dies before reaching 2nd year. And all lines that don't date back from the school foundation were started by low ranked newcomers. So, you should be proud of our more than 180 ancestors that all managed to consecutively pass on the torch in 2nd year. Cheers!"